Free and Low Cost Patent Search and Analysis Tools: Who Needs Expensive Name Brand Products?

By Jackie Hutter.

In private conversations, some of my corporate peers inform me that they pay $1000′s per year (or even per quarter for larger companies) for access to “name brand” patent search tools that nonetheless  do not contain accurate and up to date information.  For example, a client tells me that one of these expensive tools fails to update USPTO records on a portfolio her company is monitoring and that the PAIR data is more than 1 year out of date.  This limits the effectiveness of the expensive database by requiring her IP support staff to check each individual record on a regular basis to update the data.  Of course, this limitation defeats the purpose of spending the big bucks to engage with a “name brand” search tool.

Certainly, one need not have sympathy for corporate IP professionals who manage large department budgets–if they spend needlessly on “name brand” tools and staff to manage the quality of such tools, so be it.  But most companies with IP strategy needs do not have money and staff to purchase such tools, let alone to fix the errors in the datasets obtained from them.  Others might wish not to waste their department budgets on worthless tools.  To this end, over the last 5 years, I have used a number of free and low cost tools in my IP strategy practice.  I use all of these tools on a regular basis and have personally validated the quality and validity of each one for my practice.

Notably, this list was generated from actual landscaping and portfolio management projects performed by me for both large and small corporate clients.  I have used other tools in the past that did not meet my high standards of quality, ease of use and data integrity–if a tool is not on this list and I have previously recommended it elsewhere on this blog, you should assume that I have experienced some degree of problem with the product and no longer use it or it has disappeared from the list of free or low cost tools.

With regard to patent data solution providers specifically, there are a number of tools that re-code/re-index data from the various global patent offices.  I have found that the datasets obtained from these tools can be suspect because it first goes through a filter before it is rendered searchable in the proprietary database.  One of these databases required me to re-do a large landscaping project totally from scratch when at the end I found that my searches did not identify all relevant documents because the data coders responsible for populating the database did not properly index the underlying patent data.   Re-doing 60 or so hours of landscaping work due to an error-ridden patent search tool was a bummer, to say the least.  I am now very wary of the claims of  those promoting patent search tools.

In this regard, readers should also be aware that the sales teams of many proprietary databases purport to add value by such re-coding the underlying patent data to eliminate the need to conduct the somewhat arcane Boolean search strategies.  However, in my experience, this leads to the classic “garbage in/garbage out” scenario.  For this reason, I strongly prefer databases that allow me to conduct Boolean searches.  Those seeking to generate accurate search results should appreciate that the global patent office databases are populated with data that is meant to be searched using Boolean methodology.  In my experience, the most accurate patent searches result from searching the way the data is indexed.  The USPTO Boolean search tool is cumbersome and one cannot export data.  Instead, I use  This tool is free (so far) and allows me to save portfolios and export data for analysis.

This is not to say that alternative search tools cannot add value:  readers will see Google Patents in the below spreadsheet as one of my go-to tools.  I find value in Google Patents for a different reason than patent landscaping, however.  This tool allows me to use the Google search algorithm to generate patent documents that do not necessarily come up in Boolean searches.  The alternative search results identified by Google Patents frequently allows me to find adjacent technologies where the patents use alternative language to describe similar subject matter.  Since Google Patents does not allow one to export information, I use Petapator, a Chrome extension, to capture the data for later use.

The other tools indicated in the spreadsheet are directed toward monitoring and analyzing patent portfolios.  Maxval-IP and Patent Buddy take traditionally labor intensive jobs and automate them.  For example, instead of taking a paralegal hours to create and format a claim chart, I can obtain a fully complete one in less than a minute with Max-Val’s free tool.  Patent Buddy allows me to create a patent dataset quickly and efficiently–although I note that my I use this tool for high level analysis only for the reasons discussed above.  Max-Val also provides some low cost, paralegal-driven tools that are much less expensive than “name brand” products.  Their PAIR and PACER monitoring products cost a fraction of what I have seen charged by data providers and law firms.

The downside to these free or low cost tools is that one doesn’t have a 1-800-HELP-ME call center.  Since the tools are of such high quality which, combined with my expertise, allows me to work independently of outside assistance.  Others may find these tools more difficult to use and, therefore, may find comfort in having a help desk at the ready.  However, I note that in my experience using “brand name” legal databases in my career, the people manning such help desks typically did not have the depth of expertise to address the usually arcane issues I was seeking to be addressed.  Put simply, if one is looking for someone to help them formulate a patent search strategy or interpret patent data, then they arguably shouldn’t be using (and paying for) these tools in the first place.  Instead, you should be hiring someone to do this for you.  I can recommend someone for you.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and I invite readers to let me know if your use of any of these tools does not comport with my experience.  Also, please feel free to let me know if you use tools that are not on the list.  If it makes sense for my IP strategy practice, I will test the tool out and report back in a subsequent post.


[This post originally appeared at the IP Asset Maximizer Blog.]

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